Diaspora Missions and the “Recovery of the Soul”

This is just some thoughts on Diaspora missions. I have a number of friends and colleagues who are experts on Diaspora missions. I am not such an expert. But writing is my way thinking and learning.  Diaspora refers to the “scattered seed” or the scattered people group in other countries. Filipinos are commonly thought of as a group with a large Diaspora. Close to 10% of Filipinos work overseas. This is a huge number with a lot of sociological implications… many of them not good. However, rather than focusing on the problems associated with the Diaspora (or OFW) phenomenon, I would rather focus on the REALITY of the situation. It exists, so how do we work with it?

1.  Diaspora missions is sub-cultural missions. Missions can focus on cultures (dominant culture), sub-cultures, or micro-cultures. Sub-cultures are different from micro-cultures with sub-cultures involving groups that are unique within the broader society 24 hours a day.  Micro-cultures are unique only part of the time. For example, taxicab drivers have a distinctive culture part of the day and then go home and join the larger culture the rest of the time. OFWs normally are recognized as a different culture 24-hours a day.

2.  Typically, Diaspora missions is Marginalized Diaspora missions. If the Diaspora are Integrated or Assimilated into the broader society, there is little need for a separate missions methodology. It is possible, theoretically, for Diaspora to exist within a Separated relationship with the broader society. This might exist in some scattered people groups such as the Romany. However, with groups like the Filipinos, they are thinly scattered within the broader society because of work status. Rarely do they live with the option of being in a sub-cultural enclave.

3. Marginalized Diaspora missions needs to deal with more than simply conversion. Marginalization suggests that the people have lost important aspects of their culture without gaining some other coping mechanisms from the dominant culture. While most of us don’t FEEL like we need culture… but we do. Partly, this is because culture provides a narrative, a structure, and a set of coping mechanisms. Without these, there is emotional and behavioral chaos.

Why is this? Take the case of Filipino Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs). Filipinos who work overseas typically are:

a.  Uprooted from their religious, familial, and social bonds, norms, and taboos. This forces them to try to create new bonds, norms, and taboos.

b.  Not only are OFWs removed from the extended families, they are commonly removed from their nuclear families. In many sub-cultures new norms and bonds form that are hugely in conflict with their home culture. Infidelity not only causes a lot of legal and financial problems, it creates a lot of internal tension, and family destruction.

c.  OFWs relate to the broader culture in different ways. In some cases they are welcome and legal. In some cases they are legal but unwelcome (or are at least denigrated). In some cases they are welcome (at least by employers) but illegal. I have seen some places were Filipinos are looked at as a people of servants, because the OFWs take on the roles that the local people don’t want to do (much like the migrant worker situation in the US). Often the OFWs have more education than the people they are working for. All of this adds additional stress and questions regarding self-identity and self-worth.

I am sure there are more. But all of this gives some suggestion of roles needed in Diaspora Missions.

  • The disorientation of the new culture may make OFWs open to spiritual redirection. Conversion and church development are important, but this is just the start.
  • The church for OFWs needs to provide a role more in line with the 1st century church. The first century church created a new family and structure (without rejecting one’s old family).
  • OFWs need to be helped to develop healthy new social structures. They can’t simply copy the ones from home. Yet, assimilating into the new culture can be very unhealthy, as is maintaining a culturally damaged (marginalized) status.
  • OFWs need to be helped to integrate their lives so that they are not developing a compartmentalized life (two families, two sets of morals).

In clinical pastoral counseling, there is language used referring to the “recovery of the soul.” The term soul in this case is closer to the older meaning for spirit… the self empowered and meaningful life. The ideal of clinical pastoral counseling must follow through into Diaspora Missions. OFWs need to feel empowered, but that empowering must have meaning/direction… and that direction needs to be healthy, not unhealthy. 

That is a major challenge with Diaspora missions. To a large extent OFWs gain power (money) through working overseas. But the direction of that power tears families a part and creates marginalized sub-cultures. Diaspora missions needs to step in and work with OFWs to redirect… the recovery of the soul.

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